At the end of 2018 a lively exchange of opinions took place between proponents and editors of the 1983 BBT edition of the Bhagavad-gita As It Is, and advocates for the 1972 MacMillan edition (represented by the As It Was group). This article reflects on those exchanges.
As is often the case in a disagreement, the two contesting parties share a deeper aspiration, in this case pleasing our Spiritual Master A.C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada. Yet, as is also not uncommon, there is substantial divergence as to how to achieve said aspiration, namely, which mode of editing corresponds with his desire.
To begin, it is important to assume sincerity and intelligence on both sides of the debate, and, as an extension of that recognition, admit that evidence can be summoned to support both positions; for were it otherwise, intelligent and sincere parties would not find themselves in opposing positions.
With that in mind, we do find, in spite of the lengthy communications replete with examples, quotes and logic, two divergent perspectives on revising the MAC72 edition. What is a “time and place” remark for one, is an “absolute and universal authorization” for another. Jayadvaita Swami, Dravida Prabhu, et al, looking at the same facts as we at AIW, have concluded that Prabhupada gave them a “green light” to edit according to their best judgment. In fact, they intuit a “plan” or an “order” to revise, whereas we see the same evidence as thin and unconvincing.
We do not argue that in the MAC72 there exist no phrases nor words that could fairly and rationally be considered “mistakes”. However, we insist that a reconstruction of substantial portions of the MAC72 text is not the appropriate means to deal with this issue. There are other, far less intrusive means. Such vigorous content-editing, even though it may appear to serve a valuable purpose, extracts too great a cost spiritually and ethically.
Reviewing all the relevant material, we are firmly convinced that their conclusion is mistaken, misrepresenting what Prabhupada has repeatedly emphasized in regard to not altering his writings, painting choices, etc. In relation to that conviction, we see such robust editing stands in contradiction to the basic attitude of deference that must inform every action of a disciple. To continue the metaphor, our vision is of a "flashing red light", signaling that one must proceed with the greatest caution in considering corrections to the author-approved edition.
In light of the above, we offer the following condensed and cogent points, only three in number, in support of our position, viz., that the MAC72 should stand as the preeminent BBT edition of Bhagavad-gita As It Is.
Detailed exchanges debating the wisdom of a specific change can easily shift the issue away from first principles; the fundamental concepts that provide the context for our understandings and conclusions. In its briefest form, our position rest on three pillars. In the absence of clear, incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, these principles must govern.
ONE: The Authority of the Author
As it can be fairly presented as the “alpha and omega” of the entire issue, the authority of the author is listed first. A book should be revised only with the unambiguous consent of the author. In 1972 Prabhupada signed a detailed contract with Macmillan for the publication of BGAII, and this direct, documented approval must be granted all due deference. The “many possible editions” theory recently proposed by Jayadvaita Swami is not meaningful, and as such it is simply a distraction. Prabhupada’s purposeful signing of the Macmillan contract transformed all conceptual possibilities into a singular, author- authorized edition.
(Please consider this short insert as but one example illustrating the attention to detail Prabhupada demonstrated. It is part of a letter sent to Rupanuga Prabhu on February 22, 1972 concerning the Macmillan contract.)
“I noticed that on the carbon-copy [Macmillan] contract you neglected to initial the last clause (b) of Section XX Special Provisions, although you had done so on the original copy. In addition, I have added the phrase to XII. Competitive Material as follows: "as well as the 48 pages of illustrations for which the Author reserves the right to publish for any purpose he may determine…''
TWO: Arsa Prayoga.
As a Vaisnava acharya, Prabhupada’s authority as the author is further enhanced by the principle of arsa prayoga, which requires that his words are preserved as originally approved by him.
SP: The system is: whatever authority has done, even there is mistake, it should be accepted.
SP: Arsa prayoga. That is ha… He should not become more learned than the authority. That is very bad habit.
Room Conversation 2-27-77, Mayapur
THREE: Years of Utilization Without Request for Revision.
To elaborate on this point, we present an excerpt from “Why I Am Looking Into the BBT Editing” by Garuda Das, Ph.D.
“I cannot imagine that there exists any doubt in anyone’s mind, even in the minds of the editing team, that Prabhupāda approved what was finally published as the MAC72. Prabhupāda not only joyously accepted the MAC72, but also read from the MAC72 for the five years he remained on earth, utilizing it for at least 250 classes on the Bhagavad Gītā…Prabhupāda never gave any instruction to Jayadvaita Swami, nor to anyone else, that he wanted an improved and revised edition.”
Taken together, these three pillars form the core of our perspective that any content-editing of Srila Prabhupada’s books requires clear and indisputable evidence supporting such revisions. It cannot proceed based on inferences and suppositions. In our system of justice, we know that while civil trials demand only a finding of a “preponderance of the evidence”, in criminal trials, because of the potential loss of life or liberty, the bar is higher, and evidence must meet the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt”. In addition, the presumption of innocence places a further burden of proof upon the state. These foundational legal concepts are designed to avoid the tragic error of mistaken action. They are in full accord with the “red-light” perspective we advocate. If you are not sure the light is green, then better to stop. We at AIW, along with thousands of other devotees, plainly see a "flashing red-light". Nevertheless, as the aforementioned discussions demonstrated, others disagree. What cannot be honestly disputed, however, is that there is no conclusive evidence that the light is green, and that the revised edition, even if initiated by well-meaning intentions, may likely represent a mistaken action.
Please support the upcoming GTU symposium on posthumous editing of an author's work. This highly prestigious event is our best hope to turn the tide on the unwarranted editing of Srila Prabhupada's books.